Tonight’s game was interesting for a lot of the wrong reasons, but perhaps the biggest take away from this game is a glimpse of Joe Girardi’s plans for Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez this season. Jeter was in the DH spot tonight while Eduardo Nunez filled in at shortstop. And the way Girardi is talking, it sounds as if A-Rod may not play AT ALL in tomorrow’s game. Don’t get me wrong – it should come as no surprise to anyone that Jeter and A-Rod will be getting some off days this season. They are respectively entering their 38 and 37-year old seasons, after all. But we’re talking about the second and third games of the season here.
So is Girardi being overly cautious by sitting these guys instead of playing them on the Tropicana Field turf? Or does he have some legitimate reasons to worry about their health? Joe states that starting the season on Astroturf contributes to his decision to rest his veterans, and hopes that “as the season goes on, they’ll get more and more built up.”
A-Rod, who hasn’t played in more than 140 games in any single season since 2007, had more than his share of injuries last year. But he worked very hard this offseason with both his diet and his conditioning and appears to be in the best shape he’s been in for a long while now. Same with Jeter – he tweaked a calf this spring, but ended up sitting out more games than he probably needed to simply to ensure that he was indeed fully healthy. So my guess is that Girardi is overmanaging a bit (imagine that) and being overly cautious.
On one hand I’m inclined to say “fine, Jeter and A-Rod are hitting and if rest is what it takes to keep them strong and performing at their peak so be it.” On the other hand, my mind is screaming at me that there are so many reasons why resting these two on a frequent basis simply won’t be feasible.
First, there is no real defensive replacement for them. Say what you will about Jeter’s lack of range, but you won’t find any Yankees fan who has actually seen a game that will tell you they are more comfortable with Nunez at short defensively. Ditto A-Rod. Eric Chavez is much stronger on defense than Nunez, but Chavez staying healthy all season is not a proposition that I would put money on.
Second, these aren’t the only two “old” guys on the team. Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones are no spring chickens, and the plan to platoon them in the DH role should be the default for most of the season. If either Jones’ or Ibanez’s bats are to be in the lineup on days when A-Rod or Jeter are DHing, they will have to field, which means sitting either Brett Gardner or Nick Swisher. Jones is another guy who enters the season healthier than he has been in a lot of years, but I still do not believe his or Ibanez’s legs will hold up if they have to spend any significant amount of time in the field.
The long and short of it is this: every time Jeter or A-Rod is in the DH spot, the Yankees lineup will not be in its optimal form either offensively or defensively. It’s a long baseball season, and these guys are going to need to DH at least every once in a while. But Joe Girardi is going to have to play the balancing game by making sure that Jeet and Alex stay rested and fresh while still making sure he fields the strongest possible team every day. And if this opening series is any indication, Jeter and A-Rod may be getting more off days than any of us predicted, and more than I am personally comfortable with.